-1600 BC, China is charted mainly by legends and prehistoric evidence. The ancient China era was c. 1600–221 BC.
The imperial era was 221 BC – 1912 AD, from China’s unification under Qin rule until the end of the Qing Dynasty, the Republic of China era was from 1912 until 1949, and the modern China era from 1949 until the present day.
Read on for a snapshot of China’s historical timeline and some key events. There’s also a simple comparison with the world’s cultural development.
￼Click to enlarge!
Prehistoric China — Up to About 1600 BC
Prehistoric China’s chronology is divided into the Paleolithic Age, the Neolithic Age, and the Bronze Age.
Without any reliable historical records, most of what has been pieced together about prehistoric life in China comes from speculation about human activity at archaeological sites and unearthed relics. The rest comes from what might be truth within Chinese mythology.
The Xia Dynasty (c. 2070–1600 BC) — Early Bronze Age China
Possibly the first dynasty in ancient China, it’s generally believed that the Xia Dynasty consisted of several clans living alongside the Yellow River. Most of the evidence for the Xia Dynasty, including its name, is perhaps just legend.
There was a Bronze Age Yellow River civilization at this time at Erlitou in Henan; however, artifacts don’t show conclusively that this was the Xia Dynasty of later writings.
Ancient China (c. 1600–221 BC)
￼Ancient bronze objects of the Shang Dynasty have been unearthed.
Chinese civilization began along the Yellow River in the Shang era, and spread from there when Bronze Age culture reached its peak.
Then, traditional Chinese philosophies, such as Confucianism and Daoism, developed in the feudal Zhou era as China expanded in territory and population.
Ancient China finally fractured into warring kingdoms for 200 years, and its reunification marked the start of the imperial China age.
The Shang Dynasty (c. 1600–1046 BC)
The Shang Dynasty was the first to have historical records remaining. Many bronze objects and jade articles, which date back to 1600 BC, have been found to support these early archaeological records.
The earliest form of Chinese writing– oracle bones – was found. The inscriptions on animal bones had pictographic characters. The Shang Dynasty’s capital was Yin (Anyang) and its territory stretched between the lower reaches of the Yellow and Yangtze rivers.
The Zhou Dynasty (1045-221 BC)
After the Shang era, the larger Zhou era territory was divided by a network of feudal states and was ruled over by kings.
The king of Zhou only had direct control over a small portion of the realm and received tributes from the feudal states.
The first part of the Zhou era was called the Western Zhou (1045–771 BC). It was a fairly peaceful time but, after 770 BC, the Zhou king lost his authority and seven prominent states emerged.
This era was divided into three periods: the Western Zhou Dynasty (1045–771 BC); the Spring and Autumn Period (770–476 BC), and the Warring States Period (475–221 BC). It marked the transition from tribal society to feudal society.
Major philosophies and religions emerged that were the basis of Chinese beliefs in later eras, such as Confucianism and Daoism.
Imperial China (221 BC – 1912 AD)
From the first centralized feudal empire, the Qin Dynasty, which was established in 221 BC, until the collapse of the Qing Dynasty in 1912, this period is known as the imperial era of China.
The imperial China period makes up the bulk of Chinese history. With the cyclical rise and fall of dynasties, Chinese civilization was cultivated and prospered in times of peace, then reformed after rebellions and conquests.
The Qin and Han Dynasties (221BC –220 AD)
The Qin and Han dynasties were the initial period of the Chinese empire. During this period, a number of institutions were established that laid the foundation of the basic political system for the next 2,000 years.
The short-lived Qin Dynasty was the first to unite China as a country under an emperor instead of a ruling clan. A bureaucratic gove